Wisc. Public Employees Still Cashing In

June 1, 2012

Public-sector employees in Wisconsin receive significantly more in health care and pension benefits than their private-sector counterparts, even after Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 collective bargaining reforms, according to a new study.

An American Enterprise Institute study released Wednesday found that Wisconsin state employees received total compensation, including benefits, about 29 percent higher than comparable private-sector workers before the passage of Act 10.

That bill restricted public-sector unions’ collective bargaining rights and increased public employee contributions toward pensions and health coverage.

After Act 10, public employee compensation is still roughly 22 percent higher.

"What we usually hear is that state employees make less in salary," AEI resident scholar Andrew Biggs said in an interview with the Free Beacon. "In Wisconsin, the salaries are about even. The benefits are where the difference lies. Health care benefits and pensions are really what’s driving this."

The study found Wisconsin state workers receive health benefits about twice as valuable and pension benefits more than 4.5 times as valuable as those received by employees in the private sector.

In dollar terms, the study reported the average Wisconsin public employee after Act 10 receives a total compensation of $81,637 approximately versus $67,068 for a private sector worker with similar skills.

Biggs, a co-author of the study and former principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, said Wisconsin is in the middle of the pack when it comes to benefits and pensions for the public sector.

"It’s certainly not the worst of the worst," he said. "It’s not even in the same league as California or Illinois. What that shows is even run-of-the-mill states still pay large amounts to public-sector workers."

Walker is facing a recall election on Tuesday, largely spurred by union anger over Act 10. Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Democrat Mayor Tom Barrett, has run on a platform of repealing Act 10, but in recent months it has ceased to be his campaign’s central issue.

Wisconsin Republicans say that is because the reforms have worked, taking the state from a budget deficit of $1.8 billion to a surplus of $275 million.

"There's a reason the Democrats stopped mentioning collective bargaining altogether," Wisconsin GOP spokesman Ben Sparks told the Free Beacon. "This study highlights why the majority of Wisconsinites support Governor Walker's reforms to collective bargaining."

The Barrett campaign and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin did not immediately return requests for comment.